K.J. Howe on Researching the Scary World of Kidnapping for Her Latest Release, The Freedom Broker

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If you’re looking for edge-of-your-seat thrills, we recommend checking out The Freedom Broker. The first in a new series from K.J. Howe, this novel follows kidnap negotiator Thea Paris as she attempts to free her father from the clutches of a mysterious captor. Thea is a bold heroine who readers will love rooting for, but crafting her was no easy task. Here, Howe shares stories from the three years she spent researching kidnappers, their victims, and the heroes who fight to bring loved ones home safe.

Have you ever heard the term “response consultant?” If not, you’re not alone. A hidden world exists in the private security field, and I have spent the last three years researching this dark arena. “Response consultant” is the industry term for kidnap negotiators, and these heroic individuals travel to the globe’s hotspots, risking their own lives to help bring hostages home.

Kidnapping—also known as kidnap and ransom or K&R—has become an Freedom Broker - K.J. Howeinternational crisis, with over 40,000 reported cases every year. In many developing countries, displaced military and police are turning to kidnapping as a way of putting food on the table. They have the required tactical skills to manage the abduction and captivity of hostages, and kidnapping can be quite lucrative. Terrorists are also filling their coffers by abducting people. The prime targets for kidnapping are wealthy business people and their families, professionals traveling abroad, tourists, journalists, and aid workers.

To survive a kidnapping, people need to fight against their instincts—because our natural reaction when threatened is to fight or flee. Both of these responses can result in serious consequences for hostages. Instead, people in captivity need to find ways to endure countless hardships (poor hygiene, lousy food, restrictions on their movements, endless boredom, and a constant, pervasive fear for their lives) and find a way to maintain the hope that one day they will be free to enjoy life again. I wanted to create a series that would explore the different facets of kidnapping, hopefully bringing attention to this growing international crisis so we can rescue more hostages.

Kidnapping is a purgatory of sorts: The rest of the world going on with their normal lives while hostages’ lives are frozen in time, every decision of every day governed by their abductors. To learn all that I could about kidnapping, I interviewed response consultants as well as former hostages, reintegration specialists, K&R insurance experts, and special forces soldiers who deliver ransoms and execute rescues. I’m constantly working to further my education, as I want to bring verisimilitude to my series highlighting kidnap negotiator Thea Paris.

Thea is a woman working in a what has traditionally been a male-dominated field, but she stands her ground, works hard, and is extremely capable in her job. She is also personally motivated to help hostages, as her brother was kidnapped in front of her when she was only eight years old. When her father is abducted before the most important deal of his career, Thea is determined to bring him safely home. But the kidnapper doesn’t send the traditional ransom demands. Instead he texts Latin quotes, leaving Thea embroiled in the case of her life.

There are many different types of kidnapping, and I hope to explore them throughout the Freedom Broker series. When I first decided to write about kidnapping, I attended a K&R conference. I slowly developed relationships with the generous and heroic people who work in this industry. They were kind enough to introduce me to other individuals with a background in different aspects of kidnapping, and so on from there. I’m deeply grateful to all the experts who spent time patiently educating me.

I hope that readers will take Thea into their hearts. Although she is strong, smart, and capable, she is also vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, like all of us. She has type 1 diabetes, and she keeps it a secret because she doesn’t want to be treated differently by her team. And her blind loyalty to her father and brother is tested in The Freedom Broker. I hope that readers will relate to her fears and cheer her on as she strives to bring her kidnapped father back home.

KJ Howe is the Executive Director of ThrillerFest, the annual conference for the International Thriller Writers. A former medical writer and three-time Daphne du Maurier winner, she completed her Master’s in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. Travel, sports, and adventure are her passions—she has ridden racing camels in Jordan, surfed in Hawaii, ziplined in Costa Rica, swam with great white sharks in South Africa, and played with elephants in Botswana. Home is Toronto, Canada, but she is often missing in action.

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